The 2014 NFL Draft represents a prime opportunity for teams to shore up positions of need with an injection of fresh, young talent. As Day 1 in Radio City Music Hall draws closer, Elliot Harrison will be taking a division-by-division look at the draft priorities of all 32 teams in the league, continuing with the AFC North below.
Top priority: Safety
Does it feel like nobody is talking about the Ravens? Maybe that's a discussion for another day, but we can tell you Baltimore is picking 17th overall -- the highest draft slot held by the Ravens in John Harbaugh's six years with the team. In other words, Baltimore has a better opportunity to improve through the first round than in it has had in recent memory. There are several areas of need on this roster, particularly when you begin projecting into the future (guys like Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith are nearing the end of the line). For right now, we'll go with safety as the primary focus in Round 1. What's interesting is that the reason the Ravens are picking 17th -- and not 16th -- is because they lost a coin flip to Dallas (that might be the Cowboys' only win when it comes to draft time, but I digress). Why, exactly, is that interesting? Because the Cowboys started a pair of undrafted safeties last season, and they could look in that direction come May. Of course, Dallas passed on safety Matt Elam last April to select center Travis Frederick, allowing Ozzie Newsome and Co. to take Elam with the very next pick. Will a similar scenario play out again? Ravens faithful should hope so, because Anthony Levine is not the answer, and quality safety play can win games these days (no more overlooking this position).
Other areas of interest: Offensive tackle, outside linebacker, wide receiver.
Top priority: Cornerback
Truth be told, an interior offensive lineman or a 4-3 outside linebacker could make a heckuva lot of sense. ... But I see Joe Flacco throwing the ball a lot in Baltimore this fall; ditto for Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, the addition of LeGarrette Blount notwithstanding. Those are the Bengals' primary threats in the AFC North race. And when you broaden the lens further to include the entire AFC picture, this CB need is magnified even more. The Broncos, Colts and Patriots can throw it all over the park. How can the Bengals expect to beat Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Tom Brady in the playoffs if they've fallen to T.J. Yates, Matt Schauband Philip Rivers in successive years? Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Adam Jones have already seen their best days. That's why it's imperative Cincy selects a top-flight corner, for now and for the future. You can't pin everything on Andy Dalton.
Other areas of interest: Interior offensive line, outside linebacker, wide receiver.
Top priority: Quarterback
I know, I know: The Browns can wait until No. 26 -- their second pick in the first round -- to get a quarterback. Almost all of our mock drafters are saying electric receiver Sammy Watkins is the choice for Cleveland at fourth overall. That's probably the right pick. Yet, if we're looking to discuss a true need here, how can we circumvent the quarterback position? These Browns must get a distributor to build around. Brian Hoyer played well last year, but he got hurt too early for the Browns to decipher what he could do over a full slate of games. And to be frank, this is a guy who was released by three teams in the past two years. Not trying to be harsh; it's the truth. So look for Cleveland to add a quarterback at some point on the opening night of the draft -- quite possibly with the latter of the two picks.
Other areas of interest: Wide receiver, cornerback, offensive guard.
Top priority: Wide receiver
Say what you will about Big Ben, but he single-handedly carried the offense for large stretches of 2013. Thankfully, Le'Veon Bell and Heath Miller should -- unlike last season -- be ready for action on Day 1. But it's outside where Mike Tomlin's offensive attack is truly lacking. Yes, Antonio Brown just enjoyed a highly prolific campaign, but the Pro Bowler needs some help. Pittsburgh still hasn't replaced the vertical threat that was Mike Wallace. Emmanuel Sanders found greener (and oranger) pastures in Denver, albeit controversially. And we don't really know what sophomore Markus Wheaton can provide just yet. So I would say wide receiver is a need to address. If not in the first round, then when? There's ample reason for Pittsburgh to take a cornerback, another major position of need. The largest determining factor in Pittsburgh's first-round direction could be the draft slot: No. 15. That's not going to be high enough to grab Mike Evans, and it might be a bit high for Marqise Lee. Thus, taking Bradley Roby or another talented corner like Justin Gilbert could make the most sense.
Possible fit: Just a thought, but what if the Steelers trade down a few spots, get receiver Brandin Cooks and his 4.3 speed, then sneak back into the bottom of the first round (using some of the firepower gained in the trade-down) and take a corner? There are several first-round-quality CBs in this draft.
Other areas of interest: Cornerback, offensive tackle, defensive line.